The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

That Friday Feeling That Lasts A Whole Week …

So next week, I’ll be in Hong Kong.

For the whole week.

Yes, that means absolutely no posts whatsoever for the next week.

But to make sure you don’t get too happy, I’m going to leave you with one final post.

This is about the importance of mistakes.

Now I appreciate the word ‘mistake’ is often viewed as a negative, but I have a very different perspective on them.

Mistakes create standards.

Mistakes open opportunities.

Mistakes reveal who we can be.

OK, so depending on the mistake, some people may feel very differently about the positive effects of them, but in my experience big, small, life-changing or just momentarily ridiculous … they all have a benefit as long as you go into them and come out of them with the right attitude.

In short, if you’re making mistakes for any other reason than trying to do something great, you’re wasting everyones time and effort.

Making mistakes out of laziness or stupidity doesn’t help anybody, especially yourself. But doing it because you went for awesome … had a desire to push boundaries … wanted to see what other possibilities are possible … then each one of those mistakes should be celebrated and embraced by all.

Unless, of course, you’re just doing things for personal and selfish reasons then you’re a bit of a dick.

But that aside, this attitude is especially important in relation to being able to come out of your mistake with dignity and sanity intact.

Dignity and sanity are big words.

You can’t bullshit those.

For me, the only way you can walk out with either is if you went go your mistake with a clear reason for doing it and come out with a real learning from having done it.

That’s it.

And while others may never understand your reasoning, if you are clear on your motivations going in and your learnings coming out, then what others may call a ‘mistake’ may be one of the most important and valuable things you can ever do … something that has the power and potential to change, shape, reveal and create every new path you take from here on in.

Dan Wieden used to call this ‘fail harder’, he was right because whatever anyone says, mistakes matter.

See you in a week …


Progress Is Never Easy, But It’s Worth It …

Many years ago, I spoke at a conference in Australia called, Circus.

At the end of my presentation, I made a point that the things I’d talked about weren’t new and weren’t even from Wieden+Kennedy, but views I had held for many years.

I did this because when people from Wieden speak at conferences, audiences tend to think anything said is gold and I wanted to ensure they knew the presentation had come from my mind, not Dan and Dave’s.

I didn’t do this – as you may think – because I’m an egomaniac [OK, I am an egomaniac, but on this occasion, this wasn’t the motivation] but because my presentation had gone down a storm and I wanted to highlight that 7 years earlier, despite saying pretty much the exact same things that got me a job at Wieden – and had got a rousing applause – no agency in Australia would hire me.

Not one.

I was regarded as idealistic.

Or daft.

But whatever it was, no one was hiring me and in the end, I left Australia.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying Australia is bad – far from it, there’s a whole host of amazingly talented people there – but at the time I was looking for a job, they seemed to only want people who followed their rules not someone who wanted to challenge them.

At the end of my speech, I said to the audience that if there was anyone out there who had thoughts/ideas that had been knocked or mocked, to either find someone who will listen to them or try it on their own.

Now I know not every idea is a good idea … but I get very frustrated when something that someone has obviously put a huge amount of objective thought into, is immediately met with distain, for no other reason than people don’t actually like new as much as they claim.

Especially in adland.

The reason I say this is that I recently came across a clip I wrote about years ago.

It’s about a scientist who – after 30 years – was finally proved right.

Of course science and advertising is about as different as Birkenstocks and fashion, but the point is he persisted because he believed. Not because he was a fool. Not because he was blind to the facts. But because he saw something others didn’t and just kept looking to find ways to prove his theory.

Fortunately, he was backed in his belief by an amazing University, but you can tell by the look on his wife’s face when she realises her husbands 30 years of work was not in vain, that proving this was more important than just having people support your theory.

Watch it and remember we’re all just winging it until we’re not.

Innovation Is About Opportunity, Not Just Necessity …

So I’ve seen something that – to me – is one of the best bits of innovation I’ve seen in ages.

Admittedly, it’s something that has kind of been done before.

And has a limited audience.

And probably a short shelf life.

But I love it because it shows innovation is not just about what you do, but what you see is possible to do.

What am I talking about?

This …

Or, more specifically, this …

What you’re looking at are the handlebars to a Micro scooter, the sort of scooter favored by my 3 year old son Otis and wannabe-hipsters who really should know better.

Now normally these handlebars have some ‘grips’ on them like this …

… but recently I saw they offered an alternative range and it’s this that I’m blown away by.

You see someone saw that the Micro Scooter handlebars are made of a hollow metal tube.

So far, so boring.

But what someone realised was that with a hollow tubular handlebar, they could make a grip that looked like this …

For those who can’t quite tell, it’s a grip that turns the handlebars into a horn, like this:

I know it seems a small thing and I know you might not be as impressed by it as me, but I think it’s bloody genius … both for the fun it adds to the scooter and – more impressively – for someone seeing possibility in something most people would ignore.

And that’s my problem with a lot of what adland regards as ‘innovation’, because in many cases the starting point is to do something totally new rather than to see the possibilities in our everyday World.

Which explains why our industry often comes up with bullshit like Peggy while other people/companies/brands come up with brilliantly simple but effective handlebar grip horns.

The Value Of Being Lateral, Rather Than Literal …

Yes I’m back.

If anything will help you be excited about the oncoming weekend, it will be that.

So the picture above is from a presentation I give to planners.

The reason for it is because I find it fascinating when ad folk try to be like their client.

Exactly like their client.

The way they speak. The way they dress. The way they think.

Of course, I understand the importance of knowing your client, their business and their challenges, but the problem with mirroring your client is that you end up looking at the World in the same way as them … and as much as some people may think that’s a good thing, it’s not.

You see when you focus on being like an insider, you ignore the benefits of thinking like an [informed] outsider. You know, the perspective the client actually hired you for in the first place.

As one of my old senior Nike clients once said to me …

“Senior management need and want to be challenged because that’s how we keep things moving forward. If you’re not doing that, then you’re not doing anything for us”.

Now I appreciate not every client thinks this way, but this shift to client mirroring is – in my opinion – another thing that has undermined our industry.

I swear the reason for it is an attempt to be taken seriously as a client partner when the easiest way to achieve that is to do work that shows we are a serious client partner.

Do the people who say, “we’ve lost our seat at the boardroom table” seriously think this approach will change that?

Maybe … but then they will be wrong because there’s only 3 things that will do that.

1. Talk about the things that are important to the client rather than important to us.

2. Know their audience/culture better than they know their audience/culture.

3. Solve their business challenges in creatively imaginative, distinctive, culturally resonant and sustainable ways.

Oh, and there’s a 4th point … prove it.

Not just in the short-term, but in the long … where client can see the economic value of investing in their brand voice. Not just through ‘brand campaigns’, but in how they approach everything they do.

Now I know some of you may think this whole post is my attempt to justify wearing shit t-shirts and birkenstocks to client meetings for the last 25+ years – and maybe it is – but if we are to get back to where we belong, I passionately believe it’s not going to happen by behaving more like clients, but by getting back to the things they need and no one else can do.

Rob Channels Jerry Maguire …

So a while back, someone asked me what I thought made a ‘good planner’.

To be honest, all I really remember is that they caught me on a bad day and so I kind of went on an all-out rant.

By pure chance I recently came across my reply and while I definitely sound a bit of a mentalist – not to mention I miss out talking about a whole bunch of stuff I believe is super-important, like empathy – there was a lot in there that I felt had some value, if only to open a debate about what our discipline is supposed to do and what it can be.

So with that in mind, here I rant …


Planning is one of the most overused terms in the industry these days.

Everyone is now a planner … except in truth, many are either ‘packagers’ – taking the clients info and packing it into easily digestible chunks – or media people who tell you where to put your work based entirely on numbers rather than any true audience understanding.

Now I am not saying those folks aren’t important, of course they are, but for me planning is about ignition to bigger opportunities and possibilities.

For me, a planner understands 3 fundamental things:

+ What the real business problem is.
+ Who the core audience is.
+ What the creative opportunity is.

Those 3 things form the foundation of making things … things that don’t just solve the problem, but help the client have a sustainable position in culture that ultimately makes their marketing work harder for them.

Great planners care about creativity rather than advertising.

Care more about authenticity of a brand rather than marketing of a brand.

Want to uncover why people do stuff rather than just what they do.

It’s not about convenient answers, but ones that really understand the madness of how we all think and do and what we value and believe.

Of course when you’re spending billions of someone else’s money, the temptation to choose convenient, mass-acceptance answers is high and while that can get you results, breakthrough only comes when you resonate with culture rather than just try to be relevant to it.

The un-said.
The hard to explain.
The not easy to hear but it’s true.

It’s for this reason I always tell clients they shouldn’t focus purely on the methodology being used to uncover this stuff … but the person leading it, the people they’re talking to and the questions they are asking.

There’s a reason why a brand like NIKE is still at the top of its game after so long.

Sure, they have ups and downs along the way, but to still have that energy and pull 54 years after they were founded is remarkable.

Of course the biggest part of this is they make great products, have a focus on innovation, have incredible distribution and enjoy the benefits of their market power. But arguably, other companies can lay claim to doing this which is why I believe their ‘secret sauce’ is their commitment to the culture they believe in and are a part of. The culture of the athlete.

Everything they do goes through this lens.


And that’s why their marketing doesn’t follow the usual strategic approaches of looking for ‘white space’ or ‘getting to as broad an audience as possible’, but to have a deep connection to the lives and minds of the athlete so they can bring the lessons to life in the most inspirational, yet deeply authentic way possible.

This approach dictates everything, including how they choose and use their agency partners.

From a planning perspective, I know I placed far more value on someone who has a deep love of sport and creativity than anyone who could talk process or methodologies because for me – and NIKE and Wieden and every other agency on their roster – their job was to inspire great creatives to do something audacious for a client who fundamentally believes in the power of their brand voice and sport.

All this highlights 3 things.

1. Great planning comes from truly understanding the core audience.

2. Great work comes from knowing how to be useful to the creative team.

3. Great brands differentiate themselves by their authenticity and distinctiveness.

I’ve written a lot about differentiation.

While the goal should always be to ensure your clients stands out from their competitors, if the approach is to ‘own’ a position that hasn’t been taken, then ultimately you’re letting your competitors dictate your future rather than deciding it for yourself.

For me, great brands embrace their truth in fresh and exciting ways.

They attract culture rather than chase it because they are the culture, not observers of it.

It means they are always moving forward rather than remaining stagnant.

It means they’re always relevant rather than fighting for it.

Planners play an important part in this.

But only if they remember the work is the key, not the ego.

Forget Taking A Position, Give Me A Point Of View …

One of adlands favourite things is the ‘positioning statement’.

A statement that informs where a brand fits within its category.

It’s been a successful way to do things for decades and many brands continue to embrace to this day.

But it’s limiting.

It stops a brand from having a bigger role in culture.

It leads to those painful annual ‘brand relaunch’ campaigns.

It can become out-of-date in the blink of an eye.

It is for this reason I’ve always believed in the importance of a brand ‘point of view’.

A point of view transcends the category rules.

A point of view can adapt and flow with the times.

A point of view lets creativity flow, not be stifled.

Of course, to do this, you have to start with knowing who you are, who you want to be and what you stand for … but in my experience, expressing this as a point of view means you can make work that resonates with culture rather than tries to be relevant to it.

For those who don’t think resonance vs relevance is a big difference, I would say you’re missing a valuable shift in culture.

With so many brands talking at culture or making innovation that they want them to like rather than what they want, a brand that shows it truly gets it’s audience is more differentiated than any amount of brands who spend all their time trying to create a widget no other brand has, but no person actually wants.

Moore’s Law Won’t Be Law For Much Longer …

Moore’s law – created by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel – states that computer power will double every two years at the same cost.

Since he said this in the later 60’s, he’s been proven right, but having listened to a professor of computer engineering on the radio last night, it appears it’s coming to an end.

The reason I am saying this is because to prove his point, the Professor said 3 things that have blown my mind.

1. The iPhone has 4 billion transistors in it. FOUR BILLION.

2. There are now more transistors in the World than their are leaves on all the trees across the entire planet.

3. Some transistors are so small – separated by a distance of just 14 nanometres (nm) – that they are invisible. And when I say invisible, I mean it because they are smaller than the wavelengths of light human eyes and microscopes use.

What I loved about the talk the Professor gave wasn’t just his ability to articulate the incredible journey of innovation that the tech industry has been on for almost 50 years … nor was it his view that this rate of innovation was going to be impossible to maintain given the micro scale the industry is already operating at … it was that he felt this obsession with precision was stopping craftsmanship to flourish.

Now I must admit, my initial view was getting 4 billion transistors into an iPhone would be the ultimate demonstration of craftsmanship, but no … this Professor was saying that in our quest to automate our lives, we are doing it at the expense of celebrating and expanding human skills.

For him, craftsmanship is when a human manufactures a product by hand … they use dedicated human reasoning to work out the kinks during production to make a high-quality, functioning piece.

These pieces attract and inspire those around them, attracting more people to both value the products and want to create the products, helping humanity both evolve and appreciate what we are capable of creating and becoming.

Now of course we could say computers have done a similar thing, but this Professor was saying ‘perfect precision’ was overshadowing ‘human precision’ and while there will always be a need for technology to do heavy lifting for us, humanity is at its best when it is can satisfy and appreciate what we as a species can do and right now, we are outsourcing that to technology.

It’s an interesting argument – especially when you think of what so much of this new era of tech is being used to do from a human interaction perspective – but ultimately I believe the argument is that if we don’t get back to teaching tech what to value, then tech will start teaching us.

It already is.

In their quest to get AI accepted in households, many companies are building applications to cater for the lowest common denominator of needs. The low hanging fruit, as it were. Now that would be fine if they then evolved their offering, but as this is a fierce, commercial race, I am pretty sure most companies will end up focusing on trying to automate as many simple tasks as possible in a bid to show their ‘usefulness’ which means over time, they are educating us to value speed over quality, convenience over experiences, virtual over reality and information over understanding.

Some might think that is OK, but as Andy said in a comment a few weeks ago, the implication are frightening …

“The fucked thing about all this tech assistance isnt that its making us lazy, its that its making us selfish and dismissing anyone or anything that doesnt do what we want immediately. The arts are going to be fucked over by this shit till people work it out and by then it will be too late or they just wont care.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love tech.

I love what it does and I love what it has allowed us to do.

And it goes without saying I love that it has helped me satisfy my love of gadgetry.

But if this is all at the cost of humanities appreciation of humanity, that’s quite a price to pay which is why if the end of Moore’s law means we get to teach values to tech rather than have tech teach us our values, then I for one am all for it.